Archive of posts tagged with "af-am"

August 6th, 2018

Listening to the Sound of Culture

Last summer I was invited by Small Axe, a journal I have long wanted to write for, to take part in a book discussion of Louis Chude-Sokei’s engrossing, ambitious The Sound of Culture: Diaspora and Black Technopoetics. I’ve enjoyed Chude-Sokei’s perspectives on dancehall, Nigerian 419 scammers, and Bert Williams for years, and I was already planning to give the new book a good read, so this was an excellent opportunity. The journal was looking for more of a “response” than a traditional review, so I decided to focus on the critical musical threads of the book and, in particular, how they might contribute to discussions in music (and sound) studies, especially for those of us concerned with histories of diaspora and race (and, yes, reggae–among other things).

My response, “Listening to the Sound of Culture,” appeared in Small Axe 55, and you can read it in context here alongside some great articles. But here is a separate PDF of the proofs for your convenience, and I will paste the introduction below to whet appetites. Read my response — then read Louis’s book!

Louis Chude-Sokei’s The Sound of Culture: Diaspora and Black Technopoetics offers an intricately nested account of the historical relationship between race and technology, or in his words, “a broader reading of the historical and cultural context that allowed those equivalences between blacks and machines to be sensible in the first place” (5). As that framing suggests, the work offers an entwined genealogy of black claims to humanity and human fears of robot uprisings, with profound implications for how we continue to imagine the boundaries of humanity. Works of science fiction and key historical vignettes serve as Chude-Sokei’s primary exegetical texts, but he notably places black music–or more specifically, sound production–at the center of his account. What makes such an approach “structurally and philosophically possible,” he argues, “is the awareness that black music–from jazz to reggae, hip-hop to electronic dance music–has always been the primary space of direct black interaction with technology and informatics” (5).

Chude-Sokei is careful to stress, therefore, that “this is not a book about music”; rather, music serves as “a thread linking the various texts and contexts, secondary only to science fiction, which itself is subordinate to the mutually constitutive dyad of race and technology” (6). More to the point, this is not a book about music because the author is more concerned with sound, which is to say, with black music as media, or as audible interaction with technology. Without dismissing other forms of black invention, Chude-Sokei contends that music represents an exceptional domain of black technological practice: “the primary zone where blacks have directly functioned as innovators in technology’s usage” and “a space where black inventiveness has rarely or successfully been questioned” (5). Hence, to focus on music “as a space of sound and sound production is to reorient our listening … toward how blacks directly engage information and technology through sound” (5).

This focus on sound brings into relief a rich and complex history of interaction undercutting the persistent myth that blacks and technology are somehow opposed, or that blacks enjoy so little access to technology that such interactions can seem “either rare or adversarial, as in the well-known folktale of John Henry” (6). Chude-Sokei cites the so-called “digital divide” as a recent reiteration of this spurious story of black technological lack, a story that withers quickly in the face of the musical record: “Funny thing about these notions of race or blacks as having been victims of a digital divide is that in the very period that term gained such currency as to have become cliché, blacks in the Caribbean, America, and Europe were busy generating the most sophisticated electronic music and technology-obsessed music subcultures in history” (6). As that jump from the Caribbean to the wider world would suggest to scholars of electronic music, this is an analysis that builds on the remarkable resonance and influence of the Jamaican soundsystem and all that follows. It is more than convenient that one vernacular name for a soundsystem is simply a sound, a term that, as Chude-Sokei is quick to emphasize, “foregrounds technology and specific cultural interactions with it” (7) not unlike a great deal of Jamaican music itself, especially dub.

While it is true that the “mutually constitutive dyad of race and technology” persists as the core subject of Chude-Sokei’s book, I would like to focus on the text’s crucial musical threads in order to highlight how The Sound of Culture reorients specific histories of music, offers new openings for musicology and sound studies, and makes a case that the power of an audible, creole technopoetics can remake our very conception of the human. If, as Chude-Sokei posits, the black diaspora has generated the “most necessary theorizing and politicizing” of where we draw the lines between humans and machines “as a product of its extensive thinking about the African slave as an automaton” (8), and if, as he elaborates, this profound philosophical work has been no more forcefully put forward than by dub reggae, then there is a great deal to listen for in this work and all it brings into the mix.

[Read the rest…]

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August 6th, 2018

Get on the Good Foot

The following piece was published in December 2016 in The Wire‘s special issue, Spirits Rejoice: Sacred Songs, Divine Drones, and Ritual Rhythms (#394). I was excited by the call for pitches because I’ve been connecting lots of dots in my music history courses at Berklee between sacred and secular traditions, and I’ve become more and more impressed by the profundity of their imbrication and the global heritage that has resulted from so many people insisting on what we might think of as a “funky” form of sacred, spiritual experience. (I was also delighted that they liked my title, which seemed quite irresistible in its own connecting of dots and blurring of lines.) As usual, I’m posting a slightly enhanced version here. You can download a scan if you prefer.

“The devil should not be allowed to keep all this good rhythm,” said an unattributed but oft quoted elder of the Holiness church. Staking claim to a cherished heritage of music and movement, this intent to worship funkily, it turns out, has carried the benefits of such practices well beyond the church. If not for the Holiness, Sanctified, and Pentecostal churches in the United States—particularly those embraced and transformed by African Americans–if not for their insistence on keeping rhythmic, ecstatic movement central to religious experience, the whole world might dance differently.

In traditional west and central African cosmologies, we are told, there is no song or dance that is not sacred, as there is no abstraction called music apart from communal singing and dancing. The sacred can be erotic and the erotic can be sacred. Why relegate the celebration of the body as a site of fertility, strength, and beauty to the secular? Why consider profane such forms of embodied worship, social communion, and ritual mythology? Why let the devil have all these good moves?

Prior to the Civil War, enslaved Africans creolized and reimagined traditional forms of song, dance, and ritual, most notably in the sometimes surreptitious institution of the Ring Shout. Here, to shout is not to yell but, essentially, to move together. A circle of participants shuffle counter-clockwise singing call-response refrains to polyrhythms produced with any available object, from broom sticks and washboards, to hands clapping, to feet on floors—often studiously avoiding lifting the feet off the ground, crossing legs, or other movements connoting the supposedly secular realm of “dance.”

Whatever we call such ritual movement, and wherever we draw the line between the sacred and secular, these practices nurtured by the “invisible church” of the enslaved would proceed to inform all manner of music and dance related activities across the United States and, eventually, with the circulation of popular, commercial media, far further afield.

While we don’t tend to associate the spirituals of the nineteenth century with dance music any longer, in accounts of the Camp Meetings where the genre emerged—rural, interracial gatherings of thousands that could last for days on end (sometimes with Ring Shouts in the wee hours)–contemporary observers hear the spirituals possessing a troubling connection to the rhythms of work and play. As John Watson noted in Methodist Error (1819): “the coloured people get together, and sing for hours together, short scraps of disjointed affirmations, pledges, or prayers, lengthened out with long repetition choruses.” Mashing up the hymns of the day with call-response refrains, African American worshipers enlivened these songs with the synchronizing, syncopating rhythms of work songs and hoe-downs (that is, breaks from work). “These are all sung in the merry chorus-manner of the southern harvest field, or husking-frolic method, of the slave blacks,” laments Watson, and they had “already visibly affected the religious manners of some whites.”

Scandalizing the orthodox with sacred songs that historian Eileen Southern calls “dangerously near to being dance tunes,” many spirituals share the same polyrhythms–syncretized and strengthened in the common crucibles of work and worship–as those that underpin the contemporary “secular” movements of country dances from the Virginia jig to the square dance to the Cakewalk, their caricatures in blackface minstrelsy, and their rebirth with ragtime, propelling the turn-of-the-century pop hits that got the whole nation dancing the same thrilling dances.

While the likes of Eubie Blake, Sydney Bechet, and Louis Armstrong all connect ragtime to the music of the church,* ragtime also emerges as secular dance culture via the post-emancipation rise of the jook–a new, autonomous, decidedly secular dance institution. In these raucous, raunchy spaces, group dances were pushed aside by simple steps for couples like the funky butt and the slow drag. Notably, the jook enabled a reinterpretation of time-honored ritual dances: here the buzzard lope–a form of danced mythology depicting a vulture circling carrion–could be reimagined as a coquettish flirtation with a partner. But for some, this movement from sacred to profane–is that a tailfeather or a moneymaker?–was a shame. Devil’s music. But others knew these rhythms never belonged exclusively to the devil.

Despite the jook’s ostensible monopoly on “dance,” it would be foolish to underestimate the ongoing interaction and influence between secular styles and sacred practices, especially with the rise of Sanctified and Pentecostal churches. “According to the evidence,” writes Southern, “the musical practices of the slave ‘invisible church’ were passed on to the post-emancipation folk churches with full vigor.” The Pentecostal church called for “full participation of the congregation in all its worship activities” and employed music “to a degree that probably is not attained in any other denomination.” In time, the increasing use of instrumental ensembles in churches brought “the kind of rhythmic intensity formerly associated with dance music” even more directly into sacred contexts—and vice versa. Lindy Hoppers doing the Big Apple in the late 30s broke from couples to form a ring and swing themselves around the ballroom counter-clockwise

By the time we get to the early 1960s and the Twist, a song and dance conceived by a black gospel quartet, one could argue that the dance–and the craze of related steps that soon followed–“owed a notable debt to black churchgoers,” as Elijah Wald contends: “steps that looked a lot like the mashed potato and the pony had been commonplace for decades in the less sedate black churches, where congregants seized by the spirit kicked out in footwork that the go-go dancers of the 1960s could only envy.” How ironic that Duke Ellington could be “amused to see his upscale white fans doing moves that had once been reserved for Cotton Club chorus girls” yet these same moves might be indistinguishable from movement otherwise construed as ecstatic, sacred practice.

A simple step that almost single-handedly ushered in the de-coupling of America’s dancefloors, the Twist gave women the freedom to dance on their own and to take the lead. It initiated a seismic shift in social dance norms culminating in the rise and eventual dominance of solo club dancing, an approach that comes into full flower in the 1970s underground dance scene that spawns disco–a genre with a striking penchant for churchy “divas” exploiting the full-range of gospel expressivity. Shifting from a single partner to a dynamic relationship with the dancing collective, this form of social dance can resemble a platonic ecstatic-cathartic release that even some church elders might approve. According to historian Tim Lawrence who argues that “the dance experience of the 1970s was experienced as a spiritual affair,” dancers at such seminal, proto-disco spots as the Sanctuary (a former church), the Loft, the Gallery, and other venues did not understand such dance as “the first stage of seduction”; instead, “[r]evelers refigured the dance floor not as a site of foreplay … but of spiritual communion.”

In this light, it should come as no surprise that many clubgoers, especially devotees of house and techno, think about going out dancing as “going to church.” This overlap convinced architects of Chicago’s post-disco underground to enlist powerful, church-steeped singers to belt songs over booming, entrancing beats. Jesse Saunders recounts how central “very soulful and uplifting,” gospel-inflected vocals were to the transcendent sets of Frankie Knuckles. When Saunders collaborated with Vince Lawrence on the breakthrough hit “Love Can’t Turn Around,” they recruited locally renowned choir performer Darryl Pandy for revealing reasons. “He was very churchy,” remembers Lawrence, “and we thought that the kids were into that spiritual shit, man, motherfuckers yelling and screaming on the records. So we thought that he would go over like gangbusters in the club.”

If it still seems farfetched that ecstatic religious movement could so closely resemble raving, simply seek out one of the various video mashups on YouTube tagged “church rave.” Juxtaposing footage of worshippers catching the spirit with vintage drum’n’bass sessions, these videos cheekily but compellingly make the case for the sacred, ecstatic roots of modern club dance. (Musical kinship too: check out some unadulterated “praise breaks,” often hovering between 180-200 bpm, to hear the sacred counterpoint to gabber or punk.)

Although the sacred and secular can seem so separate as to suggest such parallels are purely comical, it is important to remember how blurred these lines have long been. The ragged-up funeral marches and second-line festivities that prefigured jazz, and which continue to provide communal solace and celebration, offer enduring examples of African Americans’ persistent efforts to maintain a certain spiritual holism. Today in New Orleans that torch is carried not only by brass bands but by Big Freedia and other bounce artists who conduct twerking parties as part of a memorial service. The profanity and explicit sexuality of bounce would seem at odds with solemn religious ritual, but the elemental act of shaking one’s ass–at once, ecstatic, cathartic, expressive, and free–apparently taps into appropriately deep connections to ourselves and each other. Formerly a church choir director and still a pious Christian, Freedia has described what she does as “spreading the gospel of shaking your ass.”

Like so many of her musical forbears, Big Freedia approaches this mission generously, an ambassador of booty shaking and a believer in its therapeutic benefits. She’s even happy for the Mileys and Beckies** of the world to get their twerk on, if less sanguine about being unattributed while quoted. Forged and nurtured amidst all manner of repressions and travesties, the priceless joys of such dances constitute a hard-won prize for many, yet these deeply resonant forms have traveled beyond the circle rapidly at every historical juncture. They now stand as a kind of global cultural heritage, a way for all to dance together and transcend. If the devil were allowed to keep all this good rhythm, we’d all be damned.

Wayne Marshall

///

* the paragraph has been condensed but I’ll paste the original here for the quotes from Bechet, et al.–

The New Orleans clarinetist Sydney Bechet resisted the term jazz as a sordid sign of white commodification and insisted that he played ragtime, a musical style he explicitly connected to the spiritual tradition: “When I tell you ragtime,” Bechet wrote in his memoir, “you can feel it, there’s a spirit right in the word. It comes out of the Negro spirituals, out of [my grandfather] Omar’s way of singing, out of his rhythm.” Fellow New Orleans legend Louis Armstrong noted similar connections between popular, secular music–from ragtime to rock’n’roll–and sacred traditions: “At one time they was calling it levee camp music, then in my day it was ragtime. … And all these different kinds of fantastic music you hear today–‘course its all guitars now–used to hear that way back in the old sanctified churches where the sisters used to shout til their petticoats fell down.” According to historian Dave Gilbert, the ragtime composer and piano virtuoso Eubie Blake “claimed to have first heard ragtime at his mother’s church, even though she would not have considered it that way.” This musical kinship also turns up in the popular compositions–some directly tied to downright dance crazes–of James P. Johnson, the pioneering stride pianist who wrote the “Charleston” and the tellingly titled “Carolina Shout” and who, like Blake and so many others, got his start playing piano and organ in church.

** ahem, and Drakes

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January 11th, 2018

¡Antigua Vaina!

This mix amplifies the resonances between the music of 19th century composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk and the bedrock rhythm of reggaeton and a great deal of recent pop music — a/k/a, dembow. As much a tribute to Gottschalk’s faithful fantasias as to the numerous architects of dembow aesthetics, we hear in their juxtaposition how one particular Afrodiasporic beat has served as foundation for social music and dance across the Americas and across time. While it is tempting to interpret the recent ascent of dembow and other 3+3+2 “electronic tresillo” rhythms as part of a new wave of Afro-Caribbean influence on pop and club music, Gottschalk’s parlor proto-dembow of the mid-19th-century reveals this recent prominence as less a sea change than an old tide washing ashore once more — and, moreover, that the US is no exception in this pan-American history, no island unto itself.

This mix may be a novel confection, but the music here is more than a BRAND NEWWW NOW TING. It’s an ancestral wellspring. Not ¡NUEVA VAINA! but ¡ANTIGUA VAINA! — an ancient thing. Get hip already–

w&w, Louis Dembeau Gottschalk (¡Antigua Vaina!) [MP3 13:46 31mb]

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tracklist:

Bamboula: Danse des Negres, Op. 2 (1849)
The Banjo (Grotesque Fantasie), Op. 15 (1854)
Ojos Criollos: Danse Cubaine, Op. 37 (1859)
Danza, Op. 33 (1857)
Souvenir de la Havane, Op. 39 (1859)
Souvenir de Porto Rico: Marche des Gibaros, Op. 31 (1860)
b/w “Panameña” (Colon/Lavoe, 1970)

Historical Context

170 years before “Despacito” made the dembow as ubiquitous as ever, an 18-year-old composer and piano virtuoso from New Orleans deployed the same Afro-duple rhythm to score a remarkable international hit of his own. Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s “Bamboula” took the Parisian salon scene by storm, and among others, Chopin sang his praises as the most impressive musician the United States had produced. Subtitled “Danse des Negres,” the composition was inspired by the songs and dances of Place Congo, or Congo Square, a public site where free and enslaved Africans would gather on Sundays to participate in a market and in collective singing and dancing. These gatherings began during French rule and continued for decades under the Spanish before New Orleans became US territory, and Place Congo remained a rare site where African and Afrodiasporic drumming and dancing were permitted even into the Anglo-American era.

Gottschalk’s oeuvre bears early witness to the popularity of certain Afrodiasporic rhythms that have become central to the entire world’s popular dance music. Fifty years before ragtime would popularize “syncopated” dance music and revolutionize the world of popular music and publishing, and 150 years before dancehall’s and reggaeton’s global pop insurgence, Gottschalk’s representations and “souvenirs” of the folk/dance music of New Orleans, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti, et al., offer a wonderful sort of musical record — before audio recording was possible. In this sense, I’ve been using Gottschalk’s music in my classes to discuss the epistemological issues associated with recovering the musical past, and I like to compare him with the likes of Lomax, Gershwin, perhaps even a Diplo — as well as to Dvorak, Chopin, or Ellington for that matter.

His efforts were certainly received among his publics and contemporaries as of-a-piece with other attempts to use folk sources as the basis for art music. In some way, a composition like Bamboula is as close as we can get to hearing Congo Square — or at least echoes of the songs and rhythms that animated the dances there. The question of what Congo Square sounded like is what Ned Sublette, in The World That Made New Orleans, calls “the city’s great musical riddle” (121). It was in Sublette’s work, in fact, where I first began to learn about the significance of Gottschalk to American musical history (i.e., American in the broadest sense — not, as I joke with my students, the “greatest” sense). Incidentally, Sublette specifically invokes Gottschalk to discuss this great riddle. Allow me to quote Ned’s punchy prose at some length:

Congo Square occupies a central place in the popular memory and imagination of New Orleans. At the core of it is the city’s greatest musical riddle: what did it sound like? Since we don’t have recordings, we don’t exactly know. But we have some knowledge of the instruments that were played at Congo Square.

And I think I have a pretty good idea of at least one rhythm that was played there.

… It’s a simple figure that can generate a thousand dances all by itself, depending on what drums, registers, pitches, or tense rests you assign to which of the notes, what tempo you play it, and how much you polyrhythmacize it by laying other, compatible rhythmic figures on top of it. It’s the rhythm of the aria Bizet wrote for the cigarette-rolling Carmen to sing (though he lifted the melody from Basque composer Sebastián Yradier), and it’s the defining rhythm of reggaetón. You can hear it in the contemporary music of Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico, to say nothing of the nineteenth-century Cuban contradanza. It’s Jelly Roll Morton’s oft-cited “Spanish tinge,” it’s the accompaniment figure to W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues,” and you’ll hear it from brass bands at a second line in New Orleans today. At half speed, with timpani or drum set, it was a signature rhythm of the Brill Building songwriters, and it was the basic template of clean-studio 1980s corporate rock. You could write it as a dotted eighth, sixteenth, and two eighths. If you don’t know what I’m talking about yet, it’s the rhythm of the first four notes of the Dragnet theme. DOMM, DA DOM DOM.

It’s the rhythm the right hand repeats throughout “La Bamboula (Danse des Negres),” Op. 2, a piano piece composed in 1848 to international acclaim by the eighteen-year-old Domingan-descended New Orleanian piano prodigy Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1830-70). A stellar concert attraction of his time, and, in this writer’s opinion, the most important nineteenth-century U.S. composer, Gottschalk’s legacy is inexplicably neglected today in his home country. As a toddler, he lived briefly on Rampart Streetm about a half mile down from Congo Square, at a time when the dances were still active, and he would have, like other New Orleanians in the old part of town, been familiar with the sound of the square. Some have suggested that Gottschalk was not trying to evoke the sound of Congo Square literally in the piece. But I think Gottschalk was telling us something: when they danced the bamboula at Congo Square, they repeated that rhythm over and over, the way Gottschalk’s piano piece does, the way reggaetón does today–and over that rhythm, they sang songs everyone knew.

Frederick Starr identifies the basis for the main theme of Gottschalk’s “Bamboula” as a popular song of old Saint-Domingue, “Quan’ patate la cuite,” which Gottschalk learned from Sally, his black Domingan governess. Was Gottschalk, a programmatic composer, drawing a sound portrait of a dance at Congo Square? And might he be inadvertently telling us that the singing, drumming, and dancing circles put popular melodies into their own rhythms and style? (121-125)

Sounds a lot like reggaeton, dembow, and dancehall to me! And not just in conceptual terms — i.e., invoking familiar melodies over cherished rhythms. What is especially striking is that the rhythmic figures in question are, in essence, one and the same: that ol’ 3+3+2, especially in the form of a tresillo (A) or habanera / tango pattern (B) and/or as the slightly embellished, 5-strike form (C) that became a signature rhythm in ragtime (and appears in so many other styles since, including as a common 4th or 8th measure turnaround in reggaeton productions).

A:
B:
C:

Indeed, the words that may have underpin “Bamboula” as a Place Congo chant themselves appear to engender this 5-strike rhythm:

The word bamboula here, notably, sits at the crux of the dembow rhythm. You could imagine J Balvin saying it instead of “Beyoncé” or “C’est comme-ci … c’est comme-ça” or Wyclef subbing it in for “Bonita … Mi Casa” or Lionel Richie putting it in place of “Fiesta … Forever.” In other words, this figure’s been around, still underpins so much, and as such offers a wonderful way to counterpose seemingly disparate songs and styles.

And that’s how we arrive at this mix, at least conceptually. The technical aspects are another concern entirely. I’ll offer some discussion of those dimensions below for anyone who’d care to read further.

Technical Notes and General Poetics

I’ve sought to bring these two bodies of work — Gottschalk and dembow — together on each other’s terms as much as possible, honoring at once (while also inevitably violating) the aesthetic priorities of programmatic classical and reggae/ton.

Let’s talk about the violations first: in order to match up Gottschalk’s music with dembow loops, I have had to remove nearly all of the rubato elements — i.e., expressive tempo dynamics — from the performances of his work. I suppose I could have attempted to impose rubato effects on the drum loops, but I actually believe that the grooves that inspired Gottschalk were unlikely to feature as many timing variations as he builds into his compositions and his modern interpreters bring to bear on them — correctly so, given that many of these pieces invite such a capriccio treatment, leaving timing decisions to the whims of the performer. So I decided to “flatten” out this aspect of Gottschalk’s music, turning elastic tempos into entraining, locked-in dance grooves. (I also shifted the various tempi of his compositions so they all roll along at a rather reggaetony 100bpm.) This, of course, required meticulous, Ableton-abetted “warping” at the level of nearly every measure (and sometimes every beat), and it probably took up the largest chunk of time of any of the procedures involved in the production of this mix.

I have also, rather than honoring the full integrity of his composition, employed selective fragments of Gottschalk’s works — namely, the parts of his compositions that feature tresillo-style figures. This “sampling” strategy seems, to me, consistent both with reggae/ton practice and with Gottschalk’s own tendency toward a certain level of pastiche, quotation, and recontextualization.

Moreover, the drums here — that is, the dembow loops (including two of the most common “Dem Bow” pistas and a handful of Sly & Robbie loops, many titled “DembowLoop5,” etc.) — are as important and as prominent in the mix as the piano. This is a duet of sorts, and so I am necessarily bringing a strong reggae/ton presence to the proceedings, including the use of airhorns, sirens, winking samples, and other classic mixtape / DJ drops, as well as drums that punch aggressively through the texture.

On the other hand, I have attempted to honor and employ some of the affordances of classical music in the mix, and this includes manipulations of the dembow drum loops. For one, I have attempted to be mirror some of the intensity dynamics in Gottschalk’s music by lowering and raising the volume of the drums at appropriate times. More radically, I have chopped, layered, and rearranged the various drum loops to the point where they closely match and complement the rhythms of Gottschalk’s pieces. The drums in this mix sometimes sound less like loops than through-composed elements. In this sense, I am frequently following Gottschalk’s lead, even as I submit his music to a somewhat quantized groove.

While Gottschalk’s rhythmic vitality is what I’m mainly looking to harness and highlight here, the degree of melodic variation and harmonic transformation in his music offers a refreshing contrast to the more repetitive melodies and reduced harmonic structures of reggae and reggaeton. Notably, and usefully, Gottschalk often builds these variations in a manner that mirrors the additive and subtractive layering in a reggaeton track. This provides an opportunity to underscore, beyond their Afro-duple rhythms, other things these genres have in common despite the fair distance between them in terms of time and aesthetics.

Gottschalk’s works and reggaeton productions both tend toward clear demarcations of regular, sectional development. In reggaeton, this has tended to be marked with shifting snare samples, reflecting an earlier practice of swapping out favorite loops during maratón rap sessions. In the classical forms Gottschalk was working in — if often such permissive / vague forms as fantasie or caprice — we hear this approach more in terms of sectional melodic variation and harmonic development. Together in the mix, these parallels work strikingly well — as well, I think (and hope), as the fundamental rhythmic overlap that inspired this entire exercise.

Implications and Reflections

Formally speaking, Gottschalk favored fantasies and caprices, especially for his lively piano pieces, and I myself have made some capricious choices that I hope are in the spirit (both of Gottschalk and of reggae/ton). One of these involves bringing in an excerpt of Willie Colon’s and Hector Lavoe’s “Panameña” toward the end of the mix — a decision that posed substantial technical / aesthetic difficulties. (Because each piece takes a slightly different approach to re-harmonizing the song, I’ve settled on a slightly sour, “woozy chipmunk” attempt to make them mostly line up.)

Even though “Panameña” is in a different key than Gottschalk’s Souvenir de Porto Rico, I couldn’t resist putting them together as both cite the same Puerto Rican folk song, an aguinaldo often sung as “Si Me Dan Pasteles.” The reference appears in the montuno section of “Panameña” where it serves as a potent invocation of Puerto Rican identity amidst a broader message of pan-Latinidad. As Lavoe sings,

yo canto guajira
yo canto danzón

le canto un bolero
canto un guaguancó

pero no me olvido
del aguinaldo
pero nunca olvido
el aguinaldo

The sonero’s sentiments are affirmed as the chorus responds with a distinctively Boricua refrain, “lo le lo lay” — honoring Puerto Rican musical forms alongside the Cuban and pan-Latin forms that Lavoe cites.

One thing that I hope my mix does, which is one thing that I believe Gottschalk’s music does, is to extend this idea of the deep, audible, palpable connectedness of the Caribbean and Latin America — of the diaspora and the creolized New World — so that it also includes the United States, not as an outlier or an exception but as one node among many in a network, at once a source and a destination, a distinctive set of social and cultural contexts which are, nonetheless, enmeshed in hemispheric and trans-Atlantic connections.

Among other things, this mix is, then, a proposal that we hear the US’s own Afrodiasporic heritage as alongside and inextricable rather than exceptional — and inextricable because of the echoing legacies that are a consequence of slavery and the creole societies that follow in the wake.

This is, finally, simply, a souvenir, of Moreau and dembow both — for me and for anyone else with whom it resonates as something to think, sing, or even dance along with.

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October 5th, 2011

The African Americas Project & the Mystery of Dem Bow

I’m headed down to the University of Delaware tomorrow for “The African Americas Project,” a two-day symposium bringing together quite a mix of artists, musicians, and scholars to explore the connections between Latin America, the Caribbean and the US.

For my part, I’ll be talking about “Reggaeton’s Afro-American Address,” by which I mean the ways that reggaeton — despite a certain divisiveness — is best understood as a genre articulating a powerful synthesis of Afrodiasporic style which directly (and indexically, musically/semiotically speaking) addresses an Afro-American listening public (and here I use “Afro-American” — an outdated term in the US — in the broadest sense, as a term encompassing Afro-Jamaican, Afro-Puerto-Rican, Afro-Panamanian, and African-American styles and practices).

I’ll make this argument by revealing the secret of the mystery of the mighty dembow. Here’s a hint: the loop that turns up in the lion’s share of reggaeton productions is not sampled from Shabba’s seminal song, despite what Wikipedia and everyone else says. Nope. What you think was made in Kingston actually hails from Long Island! But you’ll have to catch the talk, or wait for a forthcoming article, to get the full scoop.

It’s an honor to be part of a program featuring so many distinguished speakers, among them keynoter Franklin W. Knight, a towering figure in Caribbean Studies. You can see the full program here (PDF), but let me also note, with some excitement, that another participant is none other than Jamaican filmmaker Storm Saulter, who will be screening Better Mus Come and other works tomorrow afternoon (and, awesomely, offering comment on the music panel I’m a part of on Friday).

If you’re in the area, do drop by. Should be a stimulating session.

Also, how refreshing to be described as a “DJ, technomusicologist, and journalist”! Works for me.

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March 10th, 2011

Social Media & Electro Diasporas

This Saturday I’ll be at Cornell, speaking on a panel alongside some esteemed colleagues. The subject at hand is, more or less, the animating force behind this blog in recent years: “(post-)regional dance musics and their transformation through the internet” —

Social Media & Electro Diasporas

The students organizing the event have an ambitious agenda for digging deeper into this stuff. They envision Saturday’s panel as “a way to introduce, contextualize, and start a dialogue that really hasn’t existed in (with a few exceptions) academic circles.” That said, I’ll be curious to see whether the turnout is largely students or whether some scholar-colleagues will join us as well. Although some of the speakers are (aspiring) academics, I’m told that our profiles as bloggers were central to the invitation, “an interesting statement on the role of the internet in the circulation of these regional styles.”

The organizers tell me that they hope this weekend’s event will pave the way for two future shows involving some of Chicago’s best and brightest. (Their wishlist includes DJ Rashad, DJ Deeon, DJ Clent, Jammin’ Gerald, and Traxman). Nick, one of the organizers, adds: “Admittedly, the shows are super Chicago centric, but this is what I’ve played the most and what I’m the most familiar with (I’m from Cincinnati, Ohio). Working on planning some stuff next semester and bringing some other folks up.”

Sounds like a plan to me. I’m happy to be a part of the conversation, and I’m thrilled to chat with some smart participants/observers who’ll bring to the (round)table years of experience in and research on such crucial sites as Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, Atlanta, and New Orleans. No doubt you all know blogging brethren like Gavin Mueller, a perennially sharp critic of world2.0 and longtime ghettotech interpreter, but I’m also looking forward to meeting Al Shipley, the guy who’s writing the (kickstarted!) book on Bmore club, as well as Matt Miller, scholar of bounce and other dirty southness, and, last but not least, Ghettophiles‘ Neema Nazem, who first came to my attention as an acid-tongued but well-meaning interventionist in London’s burgeoning love affair with juke.

Oh, and did I mention there’s a party Saturday night featuring the mighty Dave Quam on the decks? YES.

I don’t have much more to add for now. Longtime readers should know that my pantheon of everyday heroes in recent years is remarkably populated by some central players in this story: courageous (if often faceless) kids dancing up a storm at school, at home, on the street, & on the screen —

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March 7th, 2011

Now That’s What I Call Enculturation 2011

via Dave Quam’s tumblr (sorta) ~~

which cannot be posted with out this kneejerk embed-again also:

further reading:

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April 16th, 2010

big gyptian (riddim meth0d repost)

[Ok, here’s another oldie-but-goodie from the Riddim Meth0d vaults. Plenty of readers are no doubt familiar with this post/mashup, especially since I’ve revisited the issue. In the time since I wrote it (almost 5 years ago!), I’ve also had the strange fortune of submitting a brief report — about the significance of “Big Pimpin” to Jay’s and Timbo’s respective oeuvres — to the lawyers working for the heirs to Baligh Hamdi’s copyrights. (For the record, while I don’t want to contribute to bad legal precedent, I’m generally ok with taking some of the money that explodes outward as rich people sue rich people, as long as I get to tell the truth as I see/hear it. Also, this likely won’t go to trial.) This example also finds its way into a chapter I’m contributing to a forthcoming book on Pop-Culture Tools for the Music Classroom. Finally, I want to thank the lovely humanitarians at archive.org for preserving the post and — more importantly — the comments on it. I’m happy & relieved to recover the comment thread from the initial RM post, which I will paste in at the bottom of this re-post. It’s hard to lose conversations to the e-ther, even little ones. For the record, this was initially published on 19 September 2005.]

riffing off pace’s east-meets-west blend and continuing my experiments with mashes of musically-related songs, i offer up an orientalist oddity: jay z’s “big pimpin’,” as produced by timbaland, mixed with abdel-halim hafez’s “khosara,” the song that provided timbo with the inspiration for the slinky, flute-propelled loop that undergirds j-hova’s jam.

wayne&wax, “big gyptian” (j-hova v. abdel-halim hafez)

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although there was some controversy about the similarity between “pimpin'” and “khosara” (including talk of a lawsuit), timbaland apparently escaped penalty, at least at present, because in this case he replayed – i.e., re-recorded – the two-bar section (rather than digitally sampling it), and the sense appears to be that the underlying composition was not original and/or substantial enough to be infringed in this case. you will hear in the four-bars that begin my mashup that timbaland’s beat bears a very strong resemblance to the original. [note from 2010: i have since changed my opinion on the question of whether this features a sample or not, based on irrefutable evidence.]

this is not an unambiguous case. because the music in question is a short loop and it is re-recorded rather than sampled, it seems reasonable for timbo to get off the hook. of course, not only is the musical reference a clearly recognizable one, the two-bar phrase in question is an important part of the original, serving as an intro and as a recurring riff (notably, returning after the vocal section). at the same time, the fact that, according to this article, label owner magdi el-amroussi would have denied timbo the ability to use this fragment – “Because he’s changed the composition” – also seems to argue for timbaland’s right to do it. despite that timbo and jay used the flute loop to craft a somewhat crass (if catchy) song about pimpin’, the world would be worse off with such arbitrary, authoritarian restrictions on derivative works, whether the so-called owner of the copyright is disney or a seemingly stodgy label owner.

what i like about this mash, as with the “code of the beats” experiment, is that one gets to hear more of the original, which is great in its own right, and thus one understands the sonic inspiration at work here. at the same time, hearing the source alongside the “derivative” track offers new ways of hearing the originals. in this case, one gets to hear how timbo’s interpretation changes the original: rather than a recurring motif, the flute loop now undergirds the entire composition, moving its emphasis toward rhythmic repetition and bass frequencies. similarly, rather than supporting some southern-fried, slap-a-bitch rap, timbaland’s breezy beat, enhanced by additional winds and strings, instead accompanies the mournful, melismatic singing of abdel-halim hafez, the “king of arabic music.”

although timbo’s beat has always had me open, i gotta admit that jay’s lyrics (and those of his cohorts) tend to put me off. frankly, they make me cringe. as much as i can see the attraction of expanding the pimp-metaphor (as with the hustler, badman, etc.) and of playing the role – at bottom, it is a position of power, par excellence perhaps – i just can’t get with the misogyny when it comes down to it. similar to oliver, i have a hard time recuperating exploitation. so, rather than playing any of the verses, or even the chorus, what i have done here is to “dub in” a few of the phrases in jay’s verse that seemed more “positive” or at least could be interpreted that way. “love ’em” (without the “leave ’em”) seems about as good as it gets, though i found some others, too.

after putting the phrases together, i was struck that the line “take ’em out the hood, keep ’em lookin’ good” suggests quite another set of meanings when heard in the context of egyptian music: one can either hear jay-z critiquing conservative islam’s call for women to wear veils – recalling vybz kartel’s “you nuh haffi hide your face like bin laden gal” – or one can hear him assailing the american-style torture interrogation techniques so symbolized by hooded abu ghraib prisoners.

and despite its appearance before 9/11, “big pimpin'” does tap into our historical moment nonetheless, sitting alongside a host of other orientalist beats in hip-hop, dancehall, and various electronic genres. the resonance of middle eastern music in the world’s (urban, popular) musics has been building for some time, reflecting centuries of history of interaction, not to mention a contemporary and increasingly visible and audible cultural presence in the US.

even so, representations of middle-easterners and islam in the US (and, say, UK) remain as stereotyped and distorted as the “eastern” musical figures in contemporary popular music. the article in al-ahram notes that the hip-hop press completely conflated various asian/orientalist signifiers when trying to describe the egyptian sound of “big pimpin'”:

The identity of the composer of the song, though, has been lost within the crazy machinations of the hip-hop world. A review of the song on MTV describes it as “Bollywood-wigged NOLA bounce stutter-stepping,” ignoring its Egyptian roots. Another review describes the beat as featuring “Z droppin big willie rhymes over a swaying, South-Seas flavoured groove that’s a happy musical marriage of Brooklyn and Bali.”

so it is also my hope that a mashup of this sort can serve to bring a little more awareness to the actual music whose ghosts and caricatures today haunt mainstream radio and the global underground alike. the hafez original could serve as a window into a wonderful world of truly amazing music, which, really, should only further justify the existence of timbaland’s homage. (let’s face it: they’re not exactly competing in the same market; one’s existence does not diminish the other – on the contrary, they enrich each other’s resonance.)

i recommend tracking down the original recording of “khosara” – never mind various live versions – and giving the song a listen. it certainly holds up on its own. (i’m sayin’, how do you think it came into timbaland’s hands?) in fact, given that the infringement suit seems like a non-issue, and considering that so many of us really dig the same sounds that inspired timbo and jay-z, it would be dandy if hafez found new listeners by virtue of timbo “putting him on.” you can find one version of “khosara” on CD here (and listen to a real-audio file of the whole thing), and you can hear much, much more from him here. enchanting stuff, no doubt. listen to this alongside some um kulthum, and you’ll get a good sense of mid-20th century egyptian popular music.

a word on technique: i have pitched the hafez recording up slightly in order to match the timbo version (since the latter had the more compelling, bumping center, which i would rather not distort). when the hafez makes harmonic changes, however, i shift the timbaland up in pitch to match it (which, yeah, sometimes sounds a little weird – but this is all kind of weird to begin with, no?). i have simply replayed the first vocal section of the hafez after the jay-z-quoting dubby section in order to give the track’s form a kind of roundness. because the hafez original is substantially longer than i imagine most people’s attention spans are, i decided to excise the rest of it. (when i tried out an earlier mix of these at a boston-based college-bar, it was clear that heads were not ready. it nearly caused a riot on dance floor, and not in a good way. but i insisted on making it through at least one round of hafez’s singing before bringing back the jay-z. the manager thought i had lost it. i quit that gig shortly thereafter. when i played the same sequence at beat research, where there also happened to be some egyptians in the house, people went bananas for it.)

one final note: i’ve added some additional, locally-inflected percussion here. having added this mash into my set at the boston bounce party a couple weeks ago, i already had the two tracks arranged with some bounce-y beats underneath (i.e., all the percussion that enters after the first eight bars). i decided to leave the beats in because they give the track some nice extra drive (if obscuring some of the halftime feel of the jay-z) and because i’ve been enjoying this odd beantown groove lately. “big pimpin'” and “khosara,” both with tempos in the mid-130s, were well suited to a boston bounce refix. it’s kind of a funny tempo, i think – unsettling with its constant question, “too fast or too slow?” – but between grime, garage, b-more, techno, soca, electro, and the occasional uptempo hip-hop or dancehall oddity, among others, beats in the 130-140 bpm range seem all the rage of late. at any rate, what’s another node in the network? shit’s messy enough to begin with. i think that’s why it sounds so good.

in case you missed it at the top:
wayne&wax, “big gyptian” (j-hova v. abdel-halim hafez)

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December 10th, 2009

Loo$e Change, Tight Flick

I enjoyed this so thoroughly yesterday that I need to post it here. Thanks to Frank Roberts for the tip. Becca called this 15 minute film “pitch perfect,” and I think she’s right. Hope you dig this as much as we. Someone needs to give Mykwain Gainey the resources to produce a series or something, preferably along these lines (and IMO with basically these same production values — so simple, so brilliant, so affective).

Loo$e Change from Mykwain Gainey on Vimeo.

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October 7th, 2009

Hit Dat ___

Not sure what to make of the casual misogyny (metaphor?) at the heart of this — a generalizing of hoe — but, that aside (if I may), I gotta say that I can’t get enough of dudes dancing lithely on their front lawns (wait for 1:10 in the video below). Apparently, this joint’s on some Dallas Boogie ish (h/t) —

After watching the following montage of “Hit Dat” clips there’s no denying that it’s a bonefide D-Town “movement” (the opening brass band bit, per yesterday, was the clincher in convincing me to post this) —

iNdustry2.0 is herrrrrrrrrrrrrr–

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April 13th, 2009

Now That’s What I Call Music Industry

@noz sez sometimes RT can mean “real talk”; here it’s both re: Lil B (RT @noz):

The 19 year old Pack frontman currently maintains 114 myspace pages (not accounting for the “SECRETE” [sp] pages he hints at in blog posts) all launched over roughly the last eight months and each showcasing five or six original songs and freestyles. He calls them “NOVELTY PAGES”, but that’s a disservice to the music within. The pages are numbered chronologically and listening to them in order is like reading an abandoned space journal, a slow descent into madness. Except it’s the good kind of madness.

On the earliest ones he was rapping regular over hit instrumentals and beats that could have been out takes from The Pack’s major label album. The songs have actual hooks, the lyrics about girls and partying. But as time goes on he gets progressively looser with it. The beats get faster and more adventurous, the fidelity lower. He starts to abandon traditional rhymes completely around the page #60, veering towards some sort of spoken word hybrid. By the late 90s he shouting on Chicago juke records and mumbling about shooting bitches in the bra over distorted as all fuck house. In the hundreds he’s rambling about eating with monkeys in space and having flashbacks to the East Bay Vivarium where he was moved to lie about having a pet iguana in a poetry contest. Sometimes he’s singing, sometimes he’s half rapping, sometimes just talking. Always he sounds just a little gone, but mostly joyous even in dark moments. The cynic could chalk this oddness up to trend hopping, a natural outgrowth of the cool-to-be-different Kanye/Wayne era. The realist might say drugs. It may be a little bit of both, but a third factor looms apparent on B’s suddenly immense catalog.

“When you’re on the internet time speeds up.” It almost sounds like a mission statement when B gargles these words on “Time”. …

See CBRAP for audio — oh, and about 100 MySpace pages.

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January 26th, 2009

Are You African-American?

from a blog and forthcoming documentary re: “How rapid immigration from Africa and the Caribbean is transforming the African American narrative” (via) —


The Neo African Americans @ Yahoo! Video

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Wayne&Wax

I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

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